Last updated: 07:00 PM ET, Sat May 23 2015

5 Battlefields to Visit for Memorial Day

Features & Advice | Tom Bastek | May 23, 2015

5 Battlefields to Visit for Memorial Day

"The Battle at Lexington" - All photos courtesy of Wikimedia Commons unless otherwise noted.

Even though in comparison to the rest of the world we are a young country, some of the most combat-hallowed ground on earth is located right here in the U.S. This Memorial Day, or really anytime you get the chance, take a side trip to visit one of these historic battlefields and pay your respects to the servicemen and women who have given their lives so that we can live ours so freely

Minute Man National Historic Park – Lincoln, Massachusetts.

The Battles of Lexington and Concord were fought on April 19, 1775, marking the official start of the Revolutionary war. There weren’t a lot of casualties in this battle, with only about 73 British and 49 Colonials killed, but it was the place where the famous, “shot heard round the world” was fired. 

Today you can visit the Minute Man National Historic Park; the Buckman Tavern, where the Lexington militia waited for the arrival of the British; the Hancock-Clarke House, where William Dawes and Paul Revere were sent to warn John Hancock and Samuel Adams of the approaching British; and the Munroe Tavern, where British Brigadier General Earl Percy set up camp headquarters during the march from Boston to Concord and back.

Fort McHenry – Baltimore, Maryland

On June 18, 1812, the U.S. declared war on the British Empire and its allies for a variety of reasons, one of which being the right to continue expansion into Native American territories. Two years later, on September 13, 1814, British naval forces bombarded Fort McHenry in Baltimore Harbor for 25 hours with rockets and heavy guns.  Because of the lack of accuracy of the weapons at maximum range, when the British forces ran out of ammunition, they ceased their attack. 

A Washington lawyer who had come to Baltimore to negotiate the release of a prisoner of war spent the night on a nearby truce ship and witnessed the barrage. When he saw the American flag raised intact after the battle concluded, he was so moved that he started to compose the poem "Defence of Fort M'Henry." 

The lawyer was named Francis Scott Key and the poem would eventually be renamed the Star Spangled Banner.  Today, you can visit the fort and take an experiential tour where you can learn about the flag and the battle that took place here. The tour allows you to tour the fort, take in a ranger talk and, at certain times of the year, witness reenactments.

The Alamo – San Antonio, Texas

In 1836, Mexican troops launched an attack on the Texas-defended Alamo Mission in what is now modern day San Antonio. Every last Texas defender was killed during the battle, which led to an instant resurgence in esprit de corps and eventually to the battle cry of “Remember the Alamo!”

Texas would carry the lessons of the Alamo to the Battle of San Jacinto where the Mexican Army was heartedly defeated in retribution, taking only 18 minutes. Today the Alamo is open for free tours every day but Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, and periodically holds special events.  VIP tours, nighttime tours and more are available at an extra cost.

Gettysburg National Military Park – Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

There were an estimated 51,000 soldiers killed, wounded, captured, or listed as missing after Gettysburg, a battle generally considered to be the turning point of the Civil War. The battle that took place here included skirmishes at Barlow’s Knoll, Devil's Den, Little Round Top, the Wheatfield, Peach Orchard, Culp’s Hill, East Cemetery Hill and the attack at Cemetery Ridge, led by General Lee and remembered in the history books as Pickett’s Charge.  Today the Gettysburg Tour Center offers tours both open-air and air-conditioned, haunted tours and also tours of the Jennie Wade house, the home of the only civilian casualty from the Battle of Gettysburg.

World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument – Pearl Harbor, Hawaii

Photo courtesy of the Hawaii Tourism Bureau.

As most of us know, on December 7, 1941, the deep-water naval base at Pearl Harbor was attacked by the Imperial Japanese navy, resulting in the damaging or sinking of eight battleships, three cruisers, and three destroyers as well as the deaths of more than 2,400 Americans, both military and civilians. The attack led to the immediate entrance of the United States into World War II and eventual atomic bombing of Japan.

Today, this area is part of a national monument that actually encompasses nine different locations across three different states: Alaska, California, and Hawaii, so making it to them all may be a bit tasking. The USS Arizona Memorial and Visitor Center is located at Pearl Harbor as well as the USS Utah Memorial, the USS Oklahoma Memorial, the military bungalows on Ford Island as well as Mooring Quays F6, F7, and F8, which formed part of Battleship Row.

These are just five of the most historic battlefields around the country. This Memorial Day, plan a side trip to your travels and honor those who fell in the many places where they fought and bled in defense of freedom.

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